What about the children?

I am distraught. I wake up in the morning feeling helpless. I am on the verge of tears from every report, picture, and video I have seen. I have not felt this way since November 2016 when I awoke to find out my nightmare was a reality. I feel bereft. I have no breath. The president of my country is doing what no human being could imagine in the name of his “law.” He blames everyone else: the Democrats, the Congress, past presidents. He says it’s not his fault and there’s nothing he can do. His conduits say they are following the policy of “zero tolerance”. But this policy does not say families must be destroyed. Check your facts, Donald, there is no language in the law that states children should be ripped from their mother’s arms.

The stories of crying children break my heart. The sound of their cries has been recorded and shared. The voices of those taking them from their parents have also been shared. They make jokes, they tell them stories, sometimes they mock these distraught children. They do not touch them or comfort them or give them emotional support. Each story is worse than the last.

The Jewish community here in the United States of America has stood up. 26 organizations have joined together and sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen. 26 disparate organizations that quite often do not agree are in total agreement. All streams of Judaism in the United States of America agree. This policy must stop. The letter unequivocally stated that we, as Jews, are “condemning…  the cruel and unconscionable policy of separating children from their parents seeking asylum in the United States. We are horrified by the heart-wrenching pictures of children being torn from the arms of their parents and put into cages, and of the credible reports of tent cities going up in 100 degree heat to accommodate hundreds of these children.”

We wrote that specifically “as Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.”

Our ancestors came to this country to escape persecution and build a better life. Many of them waited years to earn the money for passage to America. I believe many of them came without proper documentation, simply dreams.

I teach children. I teach young children in elementary school. I teach them about immigration. I teach them about the difficult lives immigrants had before they came to this country and in order to stay in this country. They learn how their ancestors did everything they could to stay together in spite, of all the hardships they endured. It was difficult in the past and its difficult now. What is happening on our borders is inhumane. Dare I say it… It is evil.

I am not only a teacher, but I am also a mother. I love my daughters more than anything in the world. I would go to the ends of the earth for them. If our lives were in danger, we would go together in search of a better life away from persecution and hate. If they were ripped from my arms, I would be broken. Our country, the United States of America, known from being a land of opportunity and freedom, is breaking people. This policy is killing the souls of innocent children. These separations will lead to permanent emotional damage.

I know this is true. My father in law is a survivor of the Holocaust. In order to survive, he had to hide. When his family was sent to the ghetto in Poland, his father realized that in order for his children to survive, they would have to hide. He sent his son and daughter out of the ghetto to a town he felt would shelter his children. He had tears in his eyes and he told his children not to look back. My father in law had to look back anyway and saw his mother running from building to building, hiding, watching him and his sister leave. That was the last time he saw them. He has never recovered. My father in law is turning 90. He has told me that he has never really been happy. He’s had joyful moments. But he’s never been happy.

People say don’t compare this to the Holocaust. Don’t diminish our history. I don’t think I am. I am afraid. I am fearful that we are going down the same path. The German people didn’t stand up. We need to stand up. We need to fight for these desperate people seeking asylum.

Jeff Sessions invoked the Bible, the New Testament, to rationalize this policy. He cited Romans 13, which said to “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order”.

It seems he missed other important pieces of the bible even if he is a Sunday school teacher. I’m sure he’s read the first book. The Old Testament. Our book. The Torah mentions at least 36 times, the importance of treating the stranger kindly. In Exodus 22:21, we are told, “You should not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” In Exodus 23:9, Moses exhorts his people to treat strangers with respect and kindness because “you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.

Our president does not invoke the bible. I don’t think he’s read it. But those people who speak for him are trying to find validity in this despicable practice.

We need to stand up. We need to raise our voices. We need to show our strength so that we can help those who cannot help themselves. This is what I have learned in my life as a Jew. We don’t only help ourselves. We need to help others because that is who we are.

About the Author
Stephanie Z. Bonder was born and bred in the Garden State of NJ. She developed her deep love for Israel when her father first started talking to her about Israel when she was a little girl. Her love for Israel continued in her college years, when she studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Currently, Stephanie enjoys her career as a general studies teacher at Golda Och Academy, a Solomon Schechter Day School in West Orange, N.J. In her volunteer hours, she is a 5th generation life member of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. As a past region president, she currently is involved in the Membership department of National Hadassah. Stephanie also works to educate adults on Jewish Peoplehood and current events in Israel through her involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest.
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